In dealing with controlling people it's important to understand who you are dealing with and the nature the relationship in order to understand how best to manage the situation.
There are people who are somewhat rigid in their thinking and like things done a certain way. There are others who are very knowledgeable in a certain area and understand that in their field there is a way to organize things to avoid problems and difficulties and to maximize efficiency and they can be 'controlling' in their area of expertise. I'm going to assume that if you are looking for information on dealing with controlling people you do not have someone like this in mind.
The other group of controlling people are types who deliberately set out to control and dominate those around them. They can be arrogant, pushy, selfish, self centered, sly, jealous, cruel, calculating, sneaky, aggressive and downright bullying. Now, obviously if you met someone and within 2 minutes you realized they had all these characteristics, you would run a mile, you would avoid them and never have any more to do with them. So these types actually disguise themselves when they first meet people. The put on an act and they can be charming, funny, intelligent, helpful, friendly, pleasant, relaxed and confident. They give the impression that it would be great to know them better and spend more time with them. In this way they lure people into their circle of influence.
Many people have the idea that they would easily be able to spot an abusive, controlling person. They believe that they would never get caught in an abusive situation or in a cult and if they ever found themselves with an abuser they would just leave. These beliefs are very dangerous and actually make people more vulnerable to the manipulators.
The controlling people we are dealing with here know how to manage all aspects of a relationship. They start from the word go by manipulating your impressions of them. They lead you to think that they are wonderful people, that they are bright and worldly, they have something that is of value to you, either friendship, business knowledge, love, information about being fully human, a skill that you want and a myriad of other things. And not only do they have it, they are willing to give it to you because they like you, they think you are special, unique, they like you for who you are. And because what they are offering is exactly what you need in that moment, it is all too easy to be entranced and fall under their spell, and so the relationship begins.
Initially they shower you with attention, affection and adoration. You believe that you have met someone fantastic, you wonder where they have been all your life and you plan for a future with them. And then little by little, sometimes almost unnoticed at first, they get more fussy, somewhat demanding. They have rules that they expect you to stick to and these rules were not present at the start of the relationship. And so the control begins. But by this stage it's too late to get out (even if you thought of leaving) because you are well and truly committed to the relationship.
If you are dealing with controlling people like these, you should know that they are psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. This may come as a shock if you didn’t know it already so let's look at what this means.
Psychopaths are not all serial killers or serial rapists. A psychopath is a person with a personality disorder which means that the person has no conscience along with a big ego. These 2 things combine to give a whole host of symptoms which are very important to understand if you are dealing with controlling people.
Psychopaths have no conscience because they do not feel empathy, guilt, remorse embarrassment, shame, fear or love. For people who do feel these things, it's very difficult to get your head around the fact that there are people who do not have emotions. These types do not feel bad for anything they do. This is very significant. I will say it again. These types can do anything they like and they never feel bad for having done it.
They can lie, cheat, con, manipulate, physically hurt, emotionally abuse, torment, be cruel and callous, destroy lives and they do not feel bad about it. They do know the difference between right and wrong, they know they are taking advantage of others, and they just don't care. It does not bother them in any way to know that they have ruined another person.
The second important thing is the big ego, the sense of superiority and the sense of entitlement. Because they consider themselves superior to those around them, they expect to be treated as special, they expect to have what they want and they believe they are entitled to these things. This gives rise to their controlling nature. They want the world to be the way they think it should be. The lack of conscience then allows them to be as cruel and calculating as they like to achieve their aims.
Recognizing this kind of dating and violence is not easy for the reasons I have outlined above. Because there is no shame or embarrassment, psychopaths and narcissists can put on a great act and portray themselves as very confident, trustworthy and likable characters. This first impression is important and it's often very difficult for those who have been tricked by the psychopath to shake off this impression later on.
However, the speed with which psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists create relationships can serve as a warning sign. If you find yourself caught up in a whirlwind relationship, whether it's a romantic thing or in a business or social setting, it's always worth taking a step back to re-evaluate what is actually happening.
While the psychopaths don't have emotions themselves they are often experts in manipulating the emotions of their targets.
They can make people feel very good with compliments and flattery (flattery being excessive or insincere praise, and even though we may know it's insincere it still has an effect!). When the emotions are running high, for example, when someone is enamored, falling in love, exhilarated, thrilled or euphoric, they cannot think very well and they have no sense of problems or difficulties. This means that even when their friends or family see the signs of a controlling relationship and try to warn them about it, the psychopath's target is unable to see any problem and believes they are making their own decisions and so ignore the warnings. So if you think you have met your soul mate within 3 days of knowing someone, or you have met Mr. Perfect and you only know him a few hours, beware!
So as you can see, if you are dealing with controlling people, you really need to know who specifically you are dealing with. Being in a relationship with a sociopath is not the same as being in a controlling relationship with a jealous person or with somebody who has obsessive compulsive disorder. So let's look at some of the other characteristics of controlling abusive men and women.
More signs of a controlling partner
If you answered yes to most of these things, they you are in a bad situation. (You can read a more comprehensive list of the signs of emotional abuse here.) If you are not sure if these things apply in your situation or not, you are also in a bad situation because your perception has been altered by the manipulator. We will get to that shortly.
Controlling abusive men and women can do the above things because of how they are made up. They have no sense of responsibility or sense of obligation to others so even if you are nice to them, they do not feel the need to be nice in return. If you do them a favor, don't expect them to return it. If they do you a favor, however, (sometimes they will tell you that they have done you a favor when you didn't ask for anything) expect to have to pay back again and again.
They are practiced liars. They even lie when it would be better for them to tell the truth. "I lie like I breathe, one as much as the other," said one psychopath. Remember the lack of shame or embarrassment? They don't even care if they are caught out in a lie, they just tell more lies to cover up the previous ones...
This makes them untrustworthy and unreliable. You cannot trust anything they say. They may promise you the sun, moon and stars and the next day they will deny saying that. On top of that, they will be 'hurt' that you don't consider them a person of their word and they will try to make you feel bad for that.
They typically don't apologize for anything (after all, it's never their fault!) and even if they do, they will often do the nasty stuff all over again very shortly. In other words, any apology counts for nothing. They may apologize because they know it's expected and it helps to keep the target or the victim fooled (wanting to believe that the partner will change), but it's only done to manipulate the victim into staying in the relationship.
The psychopaths and narcissists do express anger but even this emotion is not normal. The anger can be sudden, explosive and out of all proportion to the situation. Many victims report that the controlling person 'loses it' for no apparent reason. However, closer examination often reveals that the psychopath gets very upset at any perceived threat to their dominance. This perceived bit is important because the victim may say something 'innocent' with no consideration of control, domination, power or anything like that. However, if the psychopath, who's motivation is control and domination, thinks that the victim is challenging them, then they have to do something to put the victim in their place. Exhibiting their rage is the quickest way to do that.
The rage is also used if the victim dares to answer back, gets angry, or does anything that is forbidden by the manipulator. If the victim gets angry, the psychopath gets ten times more angry and the victim will typically back down.
The other thing about their anger is that is disappears as quickly as it appears and the psychopath or narcissist carries on as if nothing actually happened. This is a typical characteristic of these types. This can be very disconcerting for the victim, who is typically upset for some time after being on the receiving end of the narcissistic rage. To see the manipulator turn around and take a phone call and speak to someone else and to be able to act perfectly normally can be quite confusing.
The psychopaths and narcissists will often change their minds frequently. They will convince you of one thing and they may be totally congruent in doing that. Five minutes later they will have a go at convincing you of the complete opposite. They see no problem with this and it seems that they can indeed change their beliefs at a moment's notice if it suits them to manipulate the person in front of them, or perhaps it's all lies and they are just choosing the most appropriate idea to suit their purposes in any particular moment. Again the lack of empathy or conscience and the sense of superiority allows them to do this. After all, for them, the end justify the means.
There may be times when the psychopath seems to make stupid mistakes or repeats things that have got them into trouble before. It's almost as if they don’t learn from their mistakes. The real reason these things happen is not that they don't learn from past mistakes but rather they don’t care about the consequences as much as they want the instant gratification. They do things now because they want to, with little or no consideration for future consequences. This is often why their long term plans don't work out (if they even have long term plans).
I want to take a moment to mention some of the other characteristics that are often attributed to controlling abusive men and women from various sources. It is said that controlling people have low self esteem, they suffer from fear and anxiety, they have no control over themselves so they have to control others to compensate or that they want to control others to feel good about themselves.
If you are on the receiving end of mental abuse from a psychopath, it's very likely that you don't see any signs of low self esteem or fear or anxiety on the part of your abuser. Chances are, too, that they feel so good about themselves already that it's hard to see how it could be any better! And they certainly have control over themselves. They never forget to act like the perfect partner in public and they reserve the abusive stuff for behind closed doors. They don’t forget and mix these things up. They don't forget to criticize you on a regular basis, either. A compliment doesn't slip out by accident when they are having a go at you. On the contrary, they have great control over themselves!
Some victims, because of what they have read, may accept that their partner is a coward or has low self esteem or whatever because they believe this helps them to accept or understand some aspects of what is happening. But it won't explain everything. And if it doesn't explain all the aspects of the angry controlling men and women then the diagnosis is most likely wrong. Very often a diagnosis of psychopathy or narcissism is a much better fit.
I mentioned at the start that there are two important factors in dealing with controlling people, one being the person themselves, the second factor being the nature of the relationship. Let's look at some important aspects of this.
The manipulators want to control your thinking, your decision making, your emotions and your behavior. They want you to think of them as special and superior. They want you to take care of them, to put their wants and needs first. They want you to make decisions based on what's best for them. They want you to devote all your time and attention and energy to them.
In George Orwell's 1984, a member of the totalitarian regime says "… the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation." This is a useful framework to use to understand the profundity of the changes that manipulators are aiming for with their victims.
So all that repeated criticism and humiliation and belittling is designed to breakdown a person's ideas and beliefs, to make them feel bad for thinking a certain way and for wanting certain things. All those repeated arguments about the same things are a way for the psychopaths and narcissists to force their ideas and beliefs on the victim. And all those punishments and the few rewards are used to extinguish unwanted thoughts and behaviors and encourage the things the manipulator wants to have in place.
All that emotional manipulation, the emotional chaos that victims experience is all done intentionally to basically create the kind of person that the manipulator wants to have around them.
Do psychopaths know what they are doing?
Emotional manipulation is a very powerful way to control another person. We typically avoid pain and unpleasantness and move towards pleasure and comfort. The psychopath uses this by making the victim feel bad (sometimes on several occasions) for doing a certain thing. The next time the victim is going to do this thing, they remember the previous 'punishments' and decide to do something different, something that will not upset the manipulator and probably something that would be pleasing to the manipulator.
The victim typically believes that this decision is their own. The thing to keep in mind here is that really the manipulator has 'trained' the victim to make decisions this way, to not do things that will incur the wrath of the manipulator and to do things that will please the manipulator. Considering how prominent the manipulator has made themselves in the life of the victim, it's easy to see how practically all of the victim's decisions are influenced to one degree or another by the controlling person.
There are more specific details here about the dynamics in controlling relationships.
A victim in a controlling relationship such as this is changed quite profoundly in many ways. Their sense of themselves is changed. Their belief system is changed. Their thinking and decision making processes are changed. Their behaviors are changed. In effect, they develop a different personality. This is why family and friends say that they hardly know or recognize the victim after a while. Their loved one has lost their motivation, their sense of humor and their normal composure. They don't spend so much time together anymore. There seems to be little in common now and it's sometimes even a bit awkward communicating.
This 'new' personality is called the pseudopersonality and it is imposed by the manipulator, the controlling person, on their victims. They are creating the kind of person they want to have around them, a submissive, non-questioning, obedient, always on-call, loyal and dependent slave.
This pseudopersonality represses the real personality but never destroys it. It dominates but never completely controls the real personality. It is not the same as multiple personality disorder, rather it acts like a second personality that rules over the real one. The victim is typically not aware of the degree to which they have changed and are not aware of how different they are or how their personality has been altered by the manipulator.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to be dependent on the manipulator, to believe what the manipulator says, to take care of the manipulator before it takes care of itself and it is programmed to protect and defend the manipulator. The pseudopersonality often cannot see the contradictions in the relationship because the thinking is so distorted. When outsiders point out inconsistencies in the partner, it often surprises them how the victim cannot understand what they are talking about. This may even lead to erroneous ideas about the intelligence of the victim!
It is put in place with very strong and frequently repeated influence techniques which means that many of the beliefs are often stronger than normal healthy beliefs. It also means that when a person leaves or ends a controlling or manipulative relationship the pseudopersonality does not just disappear on it's own. It persists and continues to cause problems, often for decades.
This description of the pseudopersonality is a very useful way to understand what happens when you are dealing with controlling people such as psychopaths and narcissists. It also helps to explain many things, such as the internal battle that many victims experience. One part of them (the real personality) wants to leave the bad situation but another part (the pseudopersonality) is afraid of leaving and because the pseudopersonality dominates, the person may end up caught in the abusive relationship for years. The real personality may hate the partner for the nastiness but the pseudopersonality is in love with the partner and these and other opposing emotions can cause a lot of internal conflicts for the victim.
If you are dealing with controlling people I think it's obvious so far that being in a relationship with a psychopath or narcissist is an important factor to consider and understanding the profound effects of emotional abuse is something else that you cannot afford to ignore.
There are other factors that should be taken into account because they have an important bearing on the situation.
One such consideration is that psychopaths do not change. There is no treatment for psychopathy and, in fact, when psychopaths go to therapy, especially therapy with their partner, they often get worse! The therapy sessions simply give the abusive husband or abusive wife more ammunition with which to manipulate and abuse their partner. And if the psychopath fools the therapist and gets the therapist on his or her side, this is just devastating for the victim.
Victims of psychopaths often get caught up in the idea that if they can just give the manipulator enough love, care, compassion or (even worse!) if the victim can change themselves enough, the psychopath will change. This idea has to be given up. There is no hope that the psychopath will change. The only change they undergo is an improvement in their manipulation skills.
If you are in an intimate relationship with a psychopath, you were tricked into it. The psychopath presented him or herself as your ideal partner. That person does not actually exist. That person was fabricated to lure you into starting a relationship. The nasty, controlling, abusive man or woman that you see daily now is the real person. You will never have an equal or fair relationship with this person.
Another very significant factor is that when you have a pseudopersonality it means that the behavior patterns of submission are in place. Remember the pseudopersonality is programmed to be dependent on, and take care of, the manipulator. These behavior patterns are very quickly spotted by other psychopaths and narcissists. They recognize almost instantly that you have been in an abusive and traumatic situation before and they spot you as an easy target. They basically know they can just pick up where the last manipulator left off.
With all these things in mind, the only way to recover is to stop the control and abuse, undo the pseudopersonality and the damage done to you and rebuild your own personality, your own identity, again.
Unfortunately, it's not that easy.
There are lots of books and articles that offer advice on dealing with controlling people, pointing out how you should let the controlling person know that what they are doing is hurtful to you, that you should stand up to them and how you need to firmly set boundaries. There are suggestions about not taking it personally, not allowing them to upset you emotionally, about how to empathize with them and also about how to assert yourself and 'reclaim your power'.
If the controlling person is a psychopath, none of these things are likely to work. In fact, you may have been trying to do some or all of these things for years, and to no avail.
The pseudopersonality is programmed not to be able to take on the psychopath because there is so much fear and guilt being used against you. They are much, much better at destroying your boundaries than you ever will be at putting them in place. Not taking it personally is impossible with a psychopath. The psychopath knows how to make criticism and humiliation very personal.
And besides all that, the psychopath or narcissist already knows that what they are doing is upsetting you. That's why they are doing it!! Telling them is totally unnecessary and it only gives them more detail about how specifically to get at you.
Some beliefs about abusive mothers that will slow down your healing...
To stop the abuse, you have to get out, you have to leave the relationship. As long as the manipulator has contact with you, they will abuse you. I know there will be all sorts of reasons why it's difficult to move. But remember that dependency on the manipulator? That is a huge factor in being able to get away. It may, in fact, be the biggest hurdle that you need to overcome to separate. And even when you do get away, that dependency will pull you back to the psychopath for some time.
This is why it's important to be undoing the pseudopersonality at the same time. The dependency is built into the pseudopersonality and as long as you 'need' the manipulator, it distorts your thinking, your feelings and your ability to see what exactly was going on in the relationship.
When people continue to have contact with the manipulator after getting away, it slows up their recovery. The manipulator continues to manipulate, control and abuse and every contact simply allows the manipulator to reinforce the pseudopersonality, which means it takes longer to get rid of it.
Thinking that you can stay in the relationship and continue dealing with controlling people is a recipe for disaster. Trying to learn to manage a psychopath or narcissist, to keep them at arms length, to take advantage of them or not let them affect you is a waste of your time, effort and, indeed, your life. They are much more devious, sly, cruel and calculating than you could ever be. You will lose. You will lose, money, time, effort, energy, emotions, creativity, motivation, and in many cases, people have even lost the will to live.
Undoing the pseudopersonality is done by learning how it was imposed on you in the first place. What techniques of control and manipulation were used against you? Why were those techniques chosen for you? How were they used against you? What effect did they have on your thinking? On your decision making? On your emotions? And on your behavior? Why did you respond in these ways?
The more you understand about the subtleties of mind control, the less the effect they have on you and the more the pseudopersonality disappears. And as the pseudopersonality disappears your own personality has to take over again.
Realizing that you were manipulated and controlled by someone who you loved is not a pleasant experience, to put it mildly. Your whole world is rocked. Your reality crumbles. You don't know what to believe anymore. All those things that you thought were true were actually lies, or based on lies. How can you trust anyone again? How can you know who you can trust? And you got it so wrong that time, how can you even trust yourself to not get caught again?
You may be so unused to making decisions that even deciding what to have for breakfast or what to wear in the morning can be daunting tasks. Do you know what your own likes and dislikes are? Do you know what you want? Do you even know who you are anymore?
All these issues need to be sorted through, explored, discussed and some new strategies for life developed. (The previous ones were used against you!!) This takes some time and is best done with the help and guidance of a professional in the field.
An expert will save you a lot of time and suffering and will help you to avoid the common mistakes in recovering from a situation where you were dealing with controlling people. The expert will guide you through the process in such a way that you understand what was done to you, you realize that it was not your fault and will teach you how to spot psychopaths and narcissists as well as how to know whether an influence process is being used in an ethical way or whether it is being used for destructive mind control. These are all particular skills that help the victim to leave behind that part of their lives and establish their own identity or personality that is strong, self-reliant and resilient.
Special considerations if your parents are toxic.
You can learn more about mind control, psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, how to divorce a sociopath, recovering from narcissistic abuse, preventing dating violence, characteristics of a cult leader and answers to the question why do I attract narcissists?
Return from Dealing With Controlling People to Sociopath Definition
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